It may be the season for peace on earth and goodwill towards men, but when you bring it in the workplace, it can have the opposite effect. For a primer on the dos and don’ts of celebrating at the office, we talked to the people who literally wrote the book on good behavior—The Emily Post Institute, based in Burlington, Vt.
“The two overarching problems are singling people out and giving gifts to bosses,” says Anna Post, author of Emily Post’s Wedding Parties and great-great-grand daughter of etiquette maven Emily Post. “Giving a gift to one person and no gifts to others can put people’s backs up.”
Giving to a boss, on the other hand, can be interpreted by others as trying to curry favor, Post says. That doesn’t mean you have to be a Grinch this holiday season; with some common-sense tips from Post, everyone can enjoy a little holiday cheer.
1. Whatever you do for one, do for all. “Draw a neutral line—your department, your floor, your team,” says Post. “Make sure it is clear.” Cash in a card is an impersonal gift to give employees, Post says, “however, business is somewhat impersonal. It’s perfectly acceptable.” Gift certificates, movie passes, candy or chocolate are good choices. “A gift basket for everybody to share, or monthly ones that recur through the year, cover everyone in your group,” Post suggests.
2. Give gifts to workplace friends outside of work. Give them at lunch or someplace else so other co-workers won’t feel left out.
3. If you choose to give to your boss, pool resources. That way it won’t look like you’re currying favor. “If it’s from a division, there’s a reasonable line being drawn,” Post says. Gift certificates for a restaurant or an activity are good choices. “It’s not a good time for a stapler,” says Post. “You want something that’s non-office-supplyish.”
4. Avoid giving alcohol. “It’s a no across the board,” Post says. “Unless, for example, your boss is into collecting single-malt scotch and everybody knows it. Unless you’re sure, giving alcohol in the workplace is just a bad idea.”
5. Stay away from religious messages. Contrary to last year’s “Merry Christmas” campaign, Post says it’s a no-no. “If you’re going to venture in a religious direction, you’re taking a risk,” she says. “Celebrate the spirit of holiday rather than the religion of holiday.”
6. Stick to the one-drink rule at office parties. “When it comes to business, one drink or not at all,” says Post. “The worst thing is having to apologize the next day. That could [cost you] your job.”
7. Opt for an office gift exchange instead of individual gifts. “We’re a fan of the secret Santa or holiday elf,” Post says. “Set a dollar limit and stick to it. With five bucks, you’ve covered everything.”